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Lillard Shines As Blazers Outlast Pacers

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Despite a shaky finish, Portland staged an excellent comeback against a solid Pacers team, kicking-off their homestand with a 106-98 victory.

NBA: Indiana Pacers at Portland Trail Blazers Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

The Portland Trail Blazers didn’t make it easy on themselves, but they survived a furious fourth quarter rally on Monday night to hold-off the Indiana Pacers 106-98, picking up their fourth win in the last five games in the process. Playing without back-court mate CJ McCollum, Damian Lillard led the charge with 30 points (on 16 shots), a season-high 15 assists and three steals. Myles Turner paced Indiana with 28 points and 10 boards.

The Pacers were red-hot from the field in the early going and jumped out to a double-digit lead, but the Blazers battled back and pulled to within three points after the first period. After Indiana built up another lead in the second quarter, Portland again rallied—this time using a 16-1 run (and improved defense) to take the lead, and were up by seven at half.

The Blazers kept their foot on the gas pedal in the third, outscoring the Pacers 33-24 to take a 16-point lead into the game’s final stanza. Things got dicey in the fourth, however, as the Pacers cut the deficit to as little as five in the final minute before Portland iced the game at the free-throw line.

Heating Up

The Blazers started the game 0-10 from distance, and it was a big reason for the early deficit. However, they hit three-in-a-row from long range to close out the first half—including a Lillard logo bomb—to help carry momentum into the second half. They then went unconscious from beyond the arc in the third quarter, going 7-12 in the frame to balloon their lead. Four of those third quarter triples came from Al-Farouq Aminu, who did not even attempt a shot in the first half. He scored 14 of his 16 points in the third period.

Just about everyone on the floor was locked in during that stretch, and the team was able to use excellent ball movement to find the open man. To make such a drastic shooting turnaround (against one of the better defensive teams in the association nonetheless) was incredible to witness. When the Blazers are hitting the long ball consistently, they’re a force to be reckoned with.

Defensive Intensity

In addition to improved shooting, the other key factor in the comeback was Portland’s improvement on the defensive end of the floor. Turner and Darren Collison used the pick-and-pop to perfection in the first quarter, and it looked like the Pacers would run away with it. When the Blazers turned to Zach Collins off the bench, things changed. The turning point was his chase-down block of Tyreke Evans, which, combined with shots suddenly falling, completely changed the momentum of the game.

Zach’s energy was infectious, and the Pacers scored just 17 points in the quarter—completely abandoning the approach that netted them success in the first period. It’s also worth noting that Collins played alongside Enes Kanter for much of his time on the floor, which to this point has not been the norm. As a result, Kanter was a +10 for the game, on a night he only scored six points. That’s definitely a positive development.

Limping to the Finish

It’s a shame the Blazers struggled so much down the stretch, because it takes away some from the excellent work they put in from the middle of the second to the start of the fourth. But struggle they did. They got sloppy with the ball, the shots stopped falling, and the Pacers (to their credit) never gave up. You get the feeling Portland was really missing McCollum during that stretch, as they desperately could have used another offensive weapon. Despite only scoring 18 points in the frame, they held the Pacers to 26, and definitely dodged a bullet.

The Other Guys

Jusuf Nurkic started hot—finishing with 18 points and 10 rebounds—but lost his focus down the stretch, fouling out and committing some costly turnovers.

Maurice Harkless went for 10 points and five rebounds, and made some key defensive plays as well, registering two blocks and two steals.

Rodney Hood had a solid performance, starting the second half and scoring 11 total points, in addition to two steals.

Seth Curry also had 11 points, and was definitely a factor in the team’s run in the second and third quarters.

Evan Turner wasn’t much of a factor, going 0-1 from the field. He had two turnovers and just one assist in 15 minutes of action

Jake Layman had a rough night. He started the game but was 0-5 from the field in a team-low 14 minutes.

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The Blazers host Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday night.